Earlier this month, I had the honor of assisting fellow PCV April with her summer camp. She arrived with Group 84—a year ahead of mine—and it was fascinating to watch her interact at her site, given the year she’s spent there.
The trip brought me back to St. Thomas parish. I had a bizarre sense of nostalgia as I traveled back in Morant Bay (the parish capital), probably because having trained there made it feel like a home of sorts. The first few months I spent on the island felt like limbo, and I don’t think I was the only one who tried to forge a sense of “home” amidst the uncertainty. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit my HUB host family this time, but we’ll make special arrangements sometime soon!
PCVs are not encouraged to plan any major projects for their first couple months of service for a number of reasons, so I was happy to learn from assisting with this volunteer’s camp. I hope to plan one for my school next summer and feel a lot wiser from the experience I gained while assisting with this one.
Our camp ran for four days from 9am-3pm and was located in April’s classroom at school. We planned lots of crafts and broke up the afternoons with games and movies. Our campers were ages 6-12. Jamaican schools do not place much emphasis on arts education, nor do kids really learn how to creatively express themselves, so this was a very unique opportunity for the invited students.
April wrote up permission slips explaining the purpose of the camp, the hours, and to let them know that students are required to bring their lunch and snack (we had lots of issues with that last bit). She included a tear-away section where parents were to indicate yes or no. It would also be wise to leave a space for parents to write in their phone number in case any issues were to come up.
Source Material Funding:
Crafting materials can be expensive in Jamaica. It would be great if the school could provide funding, but in most cases this won’t be possible. Students for our camp were asked to pay J$300 (about 3 USD) and we decided that if the students showed up on day 3 without paying, they would be sent home. Fortunately we didn’t have to send anyone home!
Have Lots of Help:
We had a few high school students (alumni of the primary school) and a teacher’s assistant help out as camp counselors. Help could come in the form of someone looking for community service hours or someone looking to fill their week with some fun, but it’s important to have lots of it. I would recommend a counselor-camper ratio of 1:3 at least. 1:2 is better, particularly if you’re doing crafts that are a little more complicated, like friendship bracelets.
Prepare your counselors:
We didn’t get to do an orientation with our counselors, but it would have been helpful. Go over the activities to ensure that counselors know how to make each project. It’s also a good idea to go over conduct expectations (like a cell phones out-of-sight policy).
It’s never a good thing to run out of craft supplies, but you also don’t want to over-purchase. If you’re not certain of how many kids will actually show up, this part can be tough, but you want to give it some thought.
Have ideas in your back pocket:
Some mornings, we had to wait a while for kids to show up. Some crafts will take far less time than you’d expect. The last thing you want is a group of kids on a sugar high with nothing to do. Have coloring supplies set out in the mornings to turn waiting time into an opportunity for artistic expression. Teach time-heavy crafts like friendship bracelets and rex lace key chains early on so that the speedy students can keep busy. It’s also a good idea to have easier or harder variations of projects, just in case you are working with a wide age range like we were.
Plan breaks for YOU:
By the time the afternoon hit, the counselors were all exhausted. We initially planned to show movies on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, but after the first day of no movie, we changed our plans to include a movie at the end of each day. Some of our campers worked on their key chains, but most just sat and enjoyed the movies.
Play games, do icebreakers:
On the first day of camp, we played name games, made a human knot, sang and danced to boom-chicka-boom and went over the rules for the week. It helped everyone get to know each other and helped to establish group solidarity. It’s also really important to give the kids an active outlet so they aren’t getting too rough inside. We generally played games after lunch. It was fun having the kids teach us their favorite games in addition to teaching them some of ours—this is also a great way to achieve Goals 2 & 3!
Murphy’s Law; Remember to have fun:
Your schedule will likely be adjusted as the week goes on. Some of your planned projects will not work out. Roll with it! We ended up having a table-decorating contest on the last day because one of our craft ideas fell through. The kids LOVED it! So long as the campers, counselors, and you as the facilitator can look back and say that you had fun, I’d call that a success.
I remember being upset because the kids always wanted to copy my drawings, the colors of April’s paper flower, the pictures on the wall. I started to feel like they didn’t know how to be unique and creative. I reminded myself that the experience we worked to provide was new to them. I don’t know if we were able to convince them that different is beautiful, but I do think that we were able to provide them with a fun learning experience that added value to their summer.
Crafts we made:
- Yarn dolls
- Rex lace keychains (paper clips as keychain)
- Tissue paper flowers
- Popsicle stick frames
- Paper weaving
- Table decorating contest
- Friendship bracelets (w/embroidery floss)
- Rubber band bracelets
- Paper bag puppets (we couldn’t find bags)
- Paper bookmarks
- Name tags
- God’s Eyes
- Dream catchers
- Paper mâché bowls
- Finger knitting
- Crochet (using paper clips as hooks)
- Paper plate masks
- Popsicle stick puppets